Adolescent mass media usage: does the frequency and type of mass media device influence well-being?

Michael TornaritisAdolescent internet usage has grown exponentially in the last decade with pathologies now being described including “Problematic Internet Use (PIU)” or “Compulsive Internet Use”. Although not listed in the latest DSM manual (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) commonly used by psychiatrists, Internet gaming disorder is listed in the appendix as requiring further investigation.

Researchers have begun to explore the effects of internet use on psychosocial and emotional well-being with several trends beginning to emerge linking frequency of use to depression, social isolation, social self-esteem and well-being; with contradictory findings however, depending on sample size and assessment techniques. The I.Family study assessing children and adolescents from eight European countries using the same measures and protocols is valuable in identifying beneficial and detrimental effects of mass media device usage on today’s youth.  The following research findings are based on 3969 adolescents between the ages of 12-17 partaking in the I.Family survey. The evaluation consisted of anthropometric measurements, blood lipid levels, self-report questionnaires assessing frequency of mass media usage and well-being.

Across all eight countries only 4.5% of males and 3.0% of females reported having no media device in their bedroom. The most frequently found devices are mobile phone, computer with internet access and tablet PC respectively. Adolescent males who use the internet for more than 3 hours/day have lower well-being scores including emotional well-being and family relationships. The same applies for females who additionally have lower self-esteem scores with high internet use. Physical indices are also affected; females who use the internet for more than 3 hours/day have higher waist circumference, BMI, body fat while males have higher triglyceride levels. Multiple regression analyses show Internet usage to be the greatest predictor of adolescent well-being, more so than BMI, television or game console use.

The Internet has become a way of life for today’s youth, impacting both mental and physical well-being. It is therefore of paramount importance that correct and appropriate usage be taught and emphasized.

Dr. Michael Tornaritis (Research and Education Institute of Child Health, Strovolos/Cyprus)

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